TALLAHASSEE — Senate Republican leaders halted a perpetually controversial effort to revise the state’s child support laws, announcing on Tuesday that they will make another attempt at a revision during next year’s legislative session.
For nearly a decade, efforts to rewrite Florida’s child support laws have sparked emotional debates, pitting stay-at-home housewives and fathers in part against breadwinners who argue they are being forced to continue working past retirement age so they can can afford to make the required monthly payments to ex-spouses.
Former Gov. Rick Scott, now a U.S. Senator, vetoed two amendments to the Support Act before leaving Tallahassee in 2019. A debate on the issue prompted a near-riot outside Scott’s office in 2016.
As in the past, proponents of this year’s effort — including the Florida Family Fairness group — opposed the Florida Bar Association’s family law division and the Florida chapter of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers. Both sides again hired some of the most powerful lobbying firms in the state.
This year’s proposal (SB 1922) again aimed to abolish long-term maintenance and to significantly reduce the length of maintenance.
Senate sponsor Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, told the Senate Rules Committee on Tuesday that the goal of the proposal is to make retirement easier for older alimony payers and to make divorce more amicable for couples who are separating.
“The overall ethos of the bill is less litigation, less family strife, and no families in Florida using their wealth and money to pay divorce attorneys down to the last penny,” Gruters said, before asking the committee to “temporarily move the bill to next.” year to postpone”.
Gruter withdrew the proposal from consideration hours after the House discussed a similar measure (HB 1559) and prepared it for a vote. The annual legislative period is scheduled to end on April 30th.
House Democrats have grilled law sponsor Anthony Rodriguez, R-Miami, over a controversial provision that would require judges to start with a “presumption” that children should split their time evenly between parents. Scott largely based his 2016 veto of a child support bill on a similar child-sharing provision.
But Rodriguez said the 50-50 rule on child sharing would simply be written into law, which is where most judges currently start when making decisions about child sharing.
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“In most cases, this is already practiced today,” says Rodriguez. “We want every child to spend the appropriate amount of time with each parent, 50-50 times when shared, provided that each parent is able and willing to care for that child. So we’re just trying to ratify the statute and say if you go to court there’s a 50-50 standard starting point.
Under current law, Florida provides five types of alimony: “temporary,” which continue during the divorce proceedings; bridge-the-gap, which provides payments for transitions from marriage to single life for up to two years; “rehabilitative,” which provides support for an ex-spouse receiving an education or schooling; “permanent,” which allows ex-spouses to receive support for specific periods of time; and “perpetual,” which ends when a spouse dies or when the party receiving payments remarries.
This year’s House proposal also included a provision that would allow judges to reduce or cancel child support payments, or order reimbursement to a child support payer if the court finds that there is a link between the ex-spouse who is receiving child support and another person a “supportive relationship” exists or has existed “at any time during the 180 days” before a request for a change in maintenance is made. Current law allows alimony payers to cancel payments if their exes remarry.
Rep. Alex Andrade, R-Pensacola, said the provision is aimed at ending “gaming” by ex-spouses.
“What we saw in Florida is an unfortunate incident where receiving alimony payments discourages taking the legal step of entering into a legal marriage while people share households together,” Andrade said during the question-and-answer -Floor Tuesday session. “This bill reduces that kind of shenanigans and takes away that incentive not to remarry.”
Senate Rules Chair Kathleen Passidomo, a Republican from Naples who is set to take over as Senate president after the 2022 election, said lawmakers have received “hundreds of calls from people on both sides.”
“I know how difficult the issue is,” she said, encouraging Gruters to work on the bill again next year. “I think it’s wise to start early and get stakeholders in the room and hopefully we can come to a consensus among all members.”